• Studies in the History of Natural Sciences NO.3 2007

Studies in the History of Natural Sciences  NO.3 2007 

Joseph Needham's Science and Civilisation in China and the Founding of the Institute for the History of Natural Science in China

GUO Jinhai

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing 100010, China)

Abstract The publication of the first volume of Joseph Needham's Science and Civilisation in China by the Cambridge University Press (1954) received an active response from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, whose Vice-President Chu Coching lost no time to invite and organize scholars including Yeh Chisun, Chen Zhen and Tan Qixiang to review this volume. The Academy also provided a financial aid of three years. Chinese scholars not only thought highly of the volume, but also made concrete criticisms on it. Joseph Needham was directly related with the event that the Chinese Academy of Sciences dispatched a delagation to attend the Eighth International Congress for the History of Science. His study on the history of Chinese science and technolody promoted the establishment of the Institute for the History of Natural Science in China by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The institutionialization of history of science soon after the birth of new China is due to several important factors having comprehensive effect. These factors mainly include the background of the patriotism specially advocated by the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government at the beginning of 1950's, the support of Chu Coching and others leaders of the Academy for the research of history of Chinese science and technology, and the active influence exerted by Joseph Needham and the Soviet Union.

Key words Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chinese Committee for Studying the History of Natural Science, Institute for the History of Natural Science in China

Science and Technology During the Yuan Dynasty and Their Social Background

DU Shiran

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing 100010, China)

Abstract During the Song and Yuan Dynasties, China's traditional science and technology were at high tide, with their peak occurring during the Yuan Dynasty. This paper aims to bring up the entire level of the science and technology of the Yuan Dynasty, examining their politics, economy, philosophical way of thinking, cultural interaction and social correlation. Also, the social reasons for the rise and fall of the development of science and technology during the Yuan Dynasty are discussed.

Key words Yuan Dynasty, science and technology, society, Kublai Khan,Purple Mountain Group

The Origin of the Theory of “Retrieving Lost Rites from Barbarians” and Its Transmission in Late Ming and Early Qing


(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing 100010, China)

Abstract With the arrival of missionaries in China in late Ming period, Chinese literati began to learn European science and religion. In order to promote the study of Western learning, some Chinese scholars developed and expressed their attitudes towards Western science. Several of these arguments were taken up and further developed by scholars in early Qing period. This paper analyses the origin of the theory of “Retrieving Lost Rites from Barbarians” (li shi qiu ye) and its transmission in its social and cultural context, hoping that it might be of help for one to understand the attitudes of Chinese literati towards Western learning as a whole.

Key words Retrieving Lost Rites from Barbarians(li shi qiu ye), xi xue zhong yuan, Western learning, attitudes, Chinese literati, Jesuits

The Method of Excess and Deficiency in Early China: An Investigation on the Basis of the Problems of Excess and Deficiency in the Suanshushu

ZOU Dahai

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing 100010, China)

Abstract The method of excess and deficiency that had general applications was important in ancient mathematics. Systematically considering the unearthed Suanshushu (Writings on reckoning), the Nine Chapters on Mathematical Procedures and other sources, this paper discusses the formation and spread of this method in early China. It argues that in Pre-Qin Period, there often appeared the situation that something was more in one case while was less in the other. In order to find the proper amount, ancient mathematicians created a method to tackle the problem on the basis of knowledge about rate, proportion and fraction.

This method and its applications constituted a branch of mathematics in Pre-Qin China, which was recorded in the forerunner edition of the Nine Chapters. Influenced by it directly or indirectly, scholars in Pre-Qin to Han Period designed many problems of this method for social needs. And a few of the problems were compiled into the Suanshushu.

Key words method of excess and deficiency, Suanshushu, Nine Chapters on Mathematical Procedures, mathematics in Early China

The Five-Element Calendar Uncovered by the Sacrificial Relic in Taoist

CHEN Jiujin

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing 100010, China)

Abstract The paragraph on the meridian passage of the four star groups in vernal and autumnal equinoxes and summer and winter soltices from Yaodian states that “the four seasons are fixed by the use of the intercalary month and the year is formed”. Usually, this is understood as solar-lunar calendar was used in the time of Yao. But Shiji Wudi benji and Shiji Lishu say that Huangdi “managed the five qi”, “established the five elements”, and “commanded Xi to divine by the sun”, which means that at that time the five-element calendar descended from the ancient West Qiang tribe must be used. After that the 9 Li tribes threw virtue into disorder, then Emperor Yao resumed the original rule, and reassigned the officials Xi and He. Shanhaijing also remarks that in the time of Emperor Yao, the emperor shot down 10 suns, which indicates that at the time concerned the five-element calendar was used. From this it can be seen that the calendar used in Yao's time had not been determined. The sacrificial relic in Taoist reveals that the calendaer in use is a kind of announcing seasons by astronomical observation, which can uncover the secret of calendar in Yao's time.

Key words Taosit, sacrificial relic, earthen column, narrow gap

Arena for the Communication Between Gods and Humans: An Analysis on the Genesis Mythology of Naxi Ethnic Group and Its Cosmos Structure


(Institute for History and Philosophy of Science, College of Philosophy and Sociology, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875,China)

Abstract By analyzing the Naxi ethnic group's classic genesis mythology, this paper introduces the cosmos structure in traditional Naxi mythology and its explanation for the solar and lunar movement and other astronomic phenomena, makes a comparison with the Umbrella-Heaven Cosmos View, one of the three main Chinese cosmos views, and moreover, points out that such a cosmos structure is not only a universal structure, but also a social structure of traditional Naxi society. Finally, the paper explains why Dongba, the priest of Naxi, was not charged with the function for observing the heaven, by analyzing the traditional Naxi regime.

Key words genesis mythology, cosmos structure, Dongba, Chongbantu, Umbrella-Heaven Cosmos View

The Lunar Theories in Xinfa Suanshu

NING Xiaoyu

(National Time Service Center, CAS, Xi'an 710600, China; Graduate Shool,CAS, Beijing 100039, China;Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing100010, China)

Abstract This paper briefly outlines the finding of irregularities of the lunar apparent motion & the lunar theories in history in the Western world, and emphatically introduces Copernicus's method for ascertaining numerical parameters and his lunar theory, which were adopted by Xinfa Suanshu. It also describes the developing process of Tycho Brahe's theory and detailed approaches to his theory.

Key words Xinfa Suanshu, lunar theories, epicycle, deferent

The Diffusion and Impact of Western Optical Knowledge in Late Ming and Early Qing: A Study of Sun Yunqiu's Jingshi

SUN Chengsheng

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing100010, China)

Abstract Due to the lack of sources, the influence of Western optical knowledge in late Ming and early Qing China has not been fully studied until now. Based on the newly found book Jingshi by Sun Yunqiu and also on other related materials, this paper analyses Sun Yunqiu's life and academic circle in depth, and points out that Jingshi, mostly derived from Johann Adam Schall von Bell's Yuanjing shuo, is the first optical work written by the Chinese. By employing Western optical knowledge, Sun Yunqiu successfully made different kinds of optical instruments with a variety of crystals. His craft played an important role in stimulating the development of lens making. In addition, the description of many kinds of optical instruments in Li Yu's fiction Shier lou, which promoted greatly the distribution of these sophisticated tools,originated entirely from Jingshi.

Key words Sun Yunqiu, Jingshi, Yuanjing shuo, eyeglasses, telescope, late Ming and early Qing

Observation of Intensity of Gravity in China by R. P. Lejay in 1930s: Details and Significance

WU Yan, JIANG Xiaoyuan

(Department for the History & Philosophy of Science, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai 200030, China)

Abstract In 1930s, R. P. Lejay, a Jesuit and physicist from France, measured the intensity of gravity in China. Though belonging to the exploration of gravity in the Far East by the Observatory of Paris, the measurement of the intensity of gravity was an important research carried on by the National Institute of Peiping, from which the exploration of gravity came to be founded in China. Focused on first-hand materials, this article details the event, and in view of the history of science and politics, shows its significance.

Key words R. P. Pierre Lejay, elastic gravimeter, gravity, Observatory of Zi Ka Wei

The Chinese Nomenclatures for Inorganic Compounds of the Educational Association of China and Du Yaquan

HE Juan

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing 100010,China)

Abstract This paper discusses the Chinese nomenclatures for inorganic compounds of the Educational Association of China and Du Yaquan, and analyzes their similarities and differences. It is concluded that, both nomenclatures are characterized by the establishment of generic names and some qualitative prefixes; Chinese traditional names are utilized by both to establish generic names, which is a good point but fails to fully reflect t he classification of western inorganic nomenclature; the former can not avoid copying the confusion and limitations of western names of the time by establishing Chinese prefixes corresponding to those qualitative affixes of western chemical names, and hence fails to convey the exact information of the composition of a compound; by establishing Chinese prefixes that strictly correspond with the valences of elements, one can write correct formulas according to the nomenclature of the latter if he gets some basic chemical knowledge about periodic table of the elements, therefore the nomenclature of the latter could reflect the composition of a compound in an indirect way. The paper further discusses the influences of generic nomenclature and provides possible explanations for its elimination.

Key words Chinese nomenclature, inorganic compounds, the Educational Association of China, Du Yaquan

A Discussion on the Finishing Work of Shang-Zhou Bronze Ritual Vessels

HUA Jueming

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing100010, China)

Abstract Using the evidence of bronze casting and finishing work from the Manufacturing Standard in Qing Dynasty, this essay calls for more attention to the importance of finishing work of Shang-Zhou bronze ritual vessels which requires tremendous labour and much time. Further research on this issue is highly demanded.

Key words bronze ritual vessels, finishing work

The Sword with Silvery White Pattern and Its Analysis Through Synchronous Radiation X-ray Fluorescence

HE Tangkun,

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing100010, China)

HUANG Yuying

(Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, CAS, Beijing100039, China)

Abstract This article mainly deals with an ancient steel sword with silvery white pattern, its shape and basic information through an analysis of synchronous radiation X-ray fluorescence. According to the analysis, the article assumes the material of the sword, the technology about how the pattern is formed and some technical factors of exerting influence. The background of the sword is black, whose surface is bestrewn with silvery white multi-cycle and multi-line patterns. All of them are made of plane and natural patterns. Though pictures can be taken for them, they are not to be made into rubbings. They do not lack ease and grace, but they are still subjected to certain rules. Analysis reverals that the grounding and pattern contain a small amount of chrome, manganese and copper with no iron. This sword should be made of two iron-carbon alloys having different amount of carbon content with both of them containing a small amount of chrome, manganese and copper. The basic technology of multi-cycle and multi-line patterns, which resemble the hide of rhinoceros coated with lacquer, should undergo a series of processes on a multi-layer fold steel material. The steel sword is highly resistant to corrosion, which is, to a certain degree, due to the choice of good material and being forged to the full. The manufacture of pattern steel reflects from one aspect ancient China's superb skill in metal smelting and processing, and her important place in the pattern steel technology of the ancient world.

Key words silvery white, multi-cycle pattern, pattern steel, making a hole and forging plane

Lead Chromate and Arsenic Disulfide, with a Discussion About the Color of Fabric Discovered in Rujiazhuang Village in Shaan'xi

ZHAO Chengze,ZHAO Hansheng

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing100010,China)

Abstract Lead chromate and arsenic disulfide are both raw materials of Chinese traditional medicine and mineral dyestuffs. In ancient China, they had been used to cure disease,do Chinese alchemy, color articles and paint for a long time. In some books about the history of Chinese science,they are often mentioned and there is no difference between them. According to the description of their physical and che mical features in ancient documents, they are undoultedly two different minerals, that is, lead chromate should be As2S2 while arsenic disulfide should be PbCrO. As dyestuff for coloring and painting, they are easily and economically collected because of high consumption. Before Tang Dynasty arsenic disulfide had been more expensive than lead chromate so that lead chromate had been often used as paint.

Key words Lead chromate, arsenic disulfide, dyestuffs, Rujiazhuang in Shaan'xi

Applied Science and the Revolution of Basic Science

YAN Kangnian

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing100010, China)

Abstract The so-called “Scientific Revolution” means actually the revolution of basic science. Scientific revolution consists of revolutions of both basic science and applied science. Revolution of applied science is regarded generally as a servant-girl, so she was neglected and covered by the revolution of basic science, and some hidden troubles were laid between basic science and technology and between the revolution of basic science and that of technology. The achievements of basic science are difficult and even impossible to be transformed directly into technology, and the revolution of basic science was divorced from the revolution of technology. A series of historical achievements show that revolution of applied science always appeared after the emergence of every revolution of basic science, but it was included and even covered by the revolution of basic science. Once the blank in the chain of the revolutions of basic science, technology and industry is filled by the revolution of applied science, the chain from basic science to productive power will be joined.

Differences between the revolution of basic science and that of applied science, and the necessity, paradigm and periodization of the revolution of applied science are introduced and analyzed as follows. According to the understandings mentioned below, the so-called scientific revolution in the past was inaugurated by the change of basic science, the transference of scientific center between two countries was due to great development of applied science, and the so-called “rise of strong country” always relied on the significant development and achievement of industry and economy, so all of them may be explained reasonably with the introduction of the concept of the revolution of applied science.

Key words revolution of basic science,revolution of applied science,paradigm of revolution of applied Science,periodization

Respecting Primary Literature, Preventing the Spread of False Information

GUO Shuchun

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing 100010, China)

Abstract It is a rudimentary requirement for a scholar studying the history of mathematics that he or she should respect and seriously do research on original literature. However, the phenomena of misinterpreting the original literature or not are frequently seen. Even some very famous academic books can not escape from doing so by sheer luck. This paper shows that many misunderstandings exist in some very important subjects on the history of mathematics in China. Some classical examples are taken in order to illustrate the opinion. They include the compilation of Nine Chapters on Mathematical Procedures, the recognition of Liu Hui's cyclotomic algorithm and Qin Jiu-shao's general method of Chinese remainder theorem, the purpose of Li Ye's Sea Mirror of Circular Measurement, and the expressions of equation with one unknown of tian yuan method. Only through respecting primary literature can one have a correct understanding of the history of mathematics in China.

Key words primary literature, Nine Chapters on Mathematical Procedures, determination of segments, tian yuan method

New Problems in the Study and Reconstruction of the Song Dynasty Water-Powered Armillary Sphere and Celestial Globe Tower

HU Weijia

(Institute for the History of Natural Science, CAS, Beijing100010, China)

Abstract Summarizing the 50 years of study and reconstruction for the Song Dynasty water-powered armillary sphere and celestial globe tower, this paper puts forward again the historical problem whether or not the tower could operate perfectly or successfully in the Song Dynasty. It suggests that the computer simulation technology applied in recent study on the tower can be used to analyze and simulate the practical process of debugging and improving the tower at that time to draw a rational conclusion on the historical problem.

Key words the Song Dynasty water-powered armillary sphere and celestial globe tower, reconstruction, operation, computer simulation technology